Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Darla K. Anderson: From Digital Angel to Producer and Beyond

On Tuesday November 11th the Brooklyn Theater at Pixar Animation Studios was filled to capacity with professionals, students and animation fans as they eagerly anticipated the arrival of one of Pixar’s most well-known members, Producer Darla K. Anderson. Ms. Anderson, who joined the studio in 1993, has the illustrious distinction of working on some of the animation industry’s most beloved films. Her accolades include winning the BAFTA award for Monsters, Inc. and Producer of the Year in Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures from the Producers Guild of America for Cars. She spoke to the entranced crowd with her signature humor and drive about her story from growing up in Glendale, California to becoming one of the film industry’s most respected Producers.

Hollywood Calling
Darla Anderson grew up with stars in her eyes.
Born and raised in Glendale, California, she dreamed of starring in commercials and TV, and being a part of the Hollywood scene. Her mother did not want her to be part of the industry, believing it was not a great environment for children. However young Ms. Anderson dreamed of being part of the film production world. Her hero at the time, Jodie Foster, was the same age, and she envisioned starring alongside Jodie in films and becoming fast friends.

Life Takes A Turn
Her childhood dreams were cut short when at 13 her mother died tragically in a car accident. Through a series of events young Ms. Anderson found herself homeless at age 14. Knowing that the foster care system would not be a good alternative for her, she slept on the couches of friends.
During this dark time she believed that life was not worth living and wondered if she should simply give up. However she made a huge life decision to be in the game and go for it.  The loss of her mother, she said, “makes you super confident and incredibly insecure.”

She decided to stay in high school in Glendale and then moved on to community college, where she earned a $500 scholarship. Most of her professors were retired from UCLA and USC so she received an excellent education at a fraction of the cost.

She then went on to San Diego State where she earned a degree in environmental design. “I’ve always thought with a Z axis,” she said. “I always thought in 3D.”
She credits her determination and the mother of a close friend from college for helping to keep her afloat.

“I’m not sure where I would be in my life without these people,” she said, referring to her friend’s family, particularly her friend’s mother. “She has unconditionally loved me.”

I Wanna Be A Producer
Upon graduation all of her friends were getting jobs in sales and making lots of money immediately out of school. By contrast Ms. Anderson’s path proved to be far from linear. She traveled from odd job to odd job, from running an ice cream store to even serving as a truant officer. This was in the 80s, where yuppie-dom and earning as much as humanely possible was considered the standard way to live. Ms. Anderson’s seemingly unconventional lifestyle baffled her friends to no end.

But her life path would take another unexpected turn when at age 25 she met a guy at a party and discovered that he was a producer for Primavera Video Productions. It was at that moment that Ms. Anderson found her calling in life – she would become a producer.
She promptly called Primavera and announced that she was a producer and would love to work for their company. “They said thank you for your confidence we will hire you as a PA go make that coffee over there. And that is how [I] started as a PA,” she said.  

Primavera specialized in B movies, corporate videos and commercials, and Ms. Anderson volunteered for every shoot. One day she saw a flying logo in the editing room, the very early stages of 3D animation. And at that moment, she knew where she wanted her film career to take her. “I was in love. Completely, utterly in love with 3D animation,” she recalled.

She left Primavara and got a job at a small company called Angel Studios where she served as executive producer of the four-person company. While at Angel she often traveled to LA to sell ad agencies computer animation. “Back then nobody liked computer animation. It was really a hard sell,” she said.



The SIGGRAPH Moment
However, this proved to be the right course of action. She attended SIGGRAPH, now a stalwart gathering of the best and brightest in the animation and VFX industry, but at the time a fledging gathering of a handful of people.  “[There was] maybe 200 people employed in the industry at that time, “ she said. “SIGGRAPH had one party in a hotel room held by the guys at ILM.”
It was at SIGGRAPH that Ms. Anderson first heard of the company that would make her career: Pixar. At that time only three minutes of computer animation existed, and the people at Pixar wanted to make a full-length movie. “No one thought Pixar could do it,” she said.  No one, she recalled, but Pixar and her.

Going on gut instinct, she packed up her two cats, quit her job before she was fired, “rather be a bandit than be abandoned,” she remembered, and made it her goal to move to San Francisco, work for Pixar, make 50 thousand a year and come out of the closet. Once again, everyone thought she was nuts risking it all on a small company that no one had heard of to work in computer animation, a medium that at the time few had any faith in. “When I first came to Pixar nobody thought it was a good idea. You’re doing what? You’re working in San Francisco?” she said.
Ms. Anderson, however, would not be deterred.

Journey to Pixar
When she wanted a job, Ms. Anderson said, she would always call the president of the company. She felt that, after losing her mom at such a young age, she had nothing to lose, which enabled her to be “fearless with authority,” she said.

That fearlessness enabled her to pick up the phone and call then Vice President of Pixar Animation Studios Ralph Guggenheim and invite him to lunch.
She had no money and “emptied out the change in my drawer to pay for lunch,” she recalled. The experience proved to be invaluable, and she and Mr. Guggenheim formed an excellent professional relationship. At the time however, there were no jobs to be had, since the Disney deal with Pixar had not yet been struck. 

This information only stoked the fire in Ms. Anderson, and every six months she would call Mr. Guggenheim to see what jobs were available. She even received a thanks but no thanks letter from his assistant basically asking her to stop applying. “But Ralph kept taking my phone calls so I ignored those letters,” she said, figuring that if the boss keeps picking up the phone she was in great shape.

The Digital Angel Throws Her Hat In The Ring
Two years later her persistence paid off, and she joined Pixar in 1993 as producer of the commercial group. Her hope was that she would be a producer for Toy Story, but she realized that she would need to cut her teeth in commercials in order to prove that she was the right person for the job.

Her determination and the hard work of her group enabled Pixar to earn the funds necessary to finance Toy Story. “Our group of 25 people ended up getting Toy Story out the door,” said Ms. Anderson. Mr. Guggenheim even honored her work by bestowing her the title “Digital Angel” in the Toy Story credits, which she had often been called at her previous job.

Toy Story proved to be a smash hit, and enabled Pixar to move forward with their sophomore project, A Bug’s Life. For that film, Ms. Anderson didn’t bother to throw her hat in the ring for the producer job because she had only done commercials and knew nothing about marketing or licensing.
But when she saw the applicants coming through the door, she experienced her second epiphany. 

“I don’t know what I’m doing but neither do they,” she thought. She wrote to then Pixar CEO Steve Jobs and then Chief Technical Officer and now Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios President Ed Catmull an email entitled “Deep Thoughts” – a letter that basically pitched Ms. Anderson for the role of producer at Pixar.

During the interview process she met with the top brass at Disney in order to prove her mettle, since “Disney owned all of Pixar’s stuff at that time,” she said.
Her enthusiasm impressed the executives at Disney, but she still needed more time to learn the ends and outs of producing.

“Disney loves charts and graphs and analysis – I love looking at that too but I cannot produce it,” she said. She ended up getting an associate producer job rather than a producer job when the process was complete.

The day she didn’t get the gig Mr. Jobs personally apologized to her. When she told him she would accept the job he promptly asked, “Why would I say yes?”

“Because A,” she said, “I have no leverage, and B, I have a lot to learn.” This was the answer that Mr. Jobs wanted to hear. “Steve said they told him that if you were the right person for the job I’d take it.”




From Assistant Producer to Producer
A Bug’s Life had to prove that Pixar was not a one hit wonder, said Ms. Anderson.
Steve Jobs had warned her that after you have the big hit you quite often have the sophomore slump. “Then Antz came out and there was a lot of pressure,” she remarked. “Every time I turned the corner, [Steve] would say – hi Darla, is the film great yet? We all felt the pressure. We have to make it great.”
The Pixar team rose to the challenge, proving that Pixar had what it took to sustain itself as a feature film company. And Ms. Anderson’s excellent work on A Bug’s Life led to her being named a producer for many of Pixar’s future films, including Monsters, Inc. Cars, and Toy Story 3. As a producer, Ms. Anderson wears many hats and overseas all aspects production, but the key, she says, is the story.

“My central focus is story for obvious reasons,” she said. “Story is the most important thing…Everything reports to story for me.”
Story is also her favorite part of the process because it’s so difficult.

“You don’t ever have it. If you’re really trying to tell some truth it’s just a beast that will wrestle you to the ground.” She adds that being a little ADD makes for a good producer. “I get to jump from thing to thing and get paid for it and not get in trouble.”
“My focus is this big creative bent,” she said. “Everyday is super hyper different. Marketing. Casting. Music. Putting together the right team.”

Work/Life Balance: Reality or Myth?
“I don’t have a career mantra – be honest, put yourself out there, go for it,” said Ms. Anderson on her career goals. This assuredness and ability to stay true to herself enabled Ms. Anderson to come out of the closet, earn her stripes at Pixar and in 2008 marry fellow Pixar Producer Kori Rae.
And she admits that like many men and women, work/life balance can be a difficult process.

“We suck at it,” she said with a laugh. However both she and Ms. Rae have found ways to encompass both their professional and personal lives. “We’re allowed to talk about work until we get off the Bay Bridge.” She remarks that having a spouse who also works in the film industry is helpful, as they understand what it takes to get a film into production.

“We compliment each other on advice. If you’re a producer you’re going to work a lot of hours. We’re fortunate that we can work sane hours but it’s for four years.”



On Being a Leader and a Woman in the Industry
Having someone else in your corner, whether that is a spouse, mentor or friend, can help navigate the difficult waters of the industry, particularly when it comes to women and their history in film and animation. 

“You don’t want to be conscious of it but if I look back I can see if I were a guy things might have panned out differently,” she said. Fortunately, her life experiences, professional sponsorship, mentoring and friendship from individuals like Mr. Jobs and John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, along with her character and determination have enabled her to persevere through trying times.

“I grew up as a tomboy and had friends who were boys. When Hilary [Clinton] ran I woke up. The way the media was handling that bothered me. I rolled up my sleeves and decided to start mentoring and speaking,” she said. Her mentorship has included speaking and working with interns at Pixar, participating in lectures across the country and helping women to make inroads in the industry.
She finds that both women and men are hard on themselves on the job, and that women in particular punish themselves more when they make mistakes or do not speak up, especially in meetings.
Working alongside Mr. Jobs enabled Ms. Anderson to see the power and trust that were created from speaking honestly on the issues.

“He was very direct and he appreciated direct feedback,” said Ms. Anderson. “I’m not afraid to say I didn’t get that. If I don’t understand it then everybody didn’t get it or I need to hear it again. I think that’s universal for all of us. You have unlimited silver bullets to use.”
Also, she has realized that the times she has received constructive criticism were often a blessing in disguise. There have been times when colleagues have pulled her to the side to address things she may have said, and Ms. Anderson appreciates their candor.

“For somebody like me, there’s a lot of great things I possess, but I need a friend to tell me – maybe you shouldn’t say that,” she said. “When I get that feedback, I think thank you, I want to become a better person.”
If you fail she says, don’t apologize, just pick yourself back up.

“I’m really hard on myself,” said Ms. Anderson. “I use that to drive myself. [So] I would say lighten up and be kinder to yourself.”
No matter a person’s gender, there is something that everyone can excel at, concluded Ms. Anderson, whether that is working at Pixar or participating in other creative endeavors.

“I have this faith there’s a place for everybody. We’re all here for a reason. We belong on a team,” she said.

“I want everybody to be ambitious. There’s enough for everybody.”



Special thanks to Darla Anderson and the staff at Pixar for helping us create this excellent members only event!

For more information on Women in Animation San Francisco:

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And to become a member visit our International Headquarters home page at

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Women in Animation San Francisco Presents An Evening With Darla K. Anderson

Women in Animation San Francisco Chapter is pleased to announce November's Members Only Event:

An Evening With Darla K. Anderson 



Photo courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter
Tuesday November 11th
Pixar Animation Studios

6:15 pm - 7:00 pm Mix and Mingle
7:00 pm - 8:00 pm Talk and Q&A 


Light hors d'oeuvres and specialty cocktails will be served!

A Pixarian since 1993 and a member of Pixar's Brain Trust, Producer Darla K. Anderson is best known for her work on such beloved films as A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc. Cars, and Toy Story 3. 
Her accolades include winning the BAFTA award for Monsters, Inc. and Producer of the Year in Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures from the Producers Guild of America for Cars. 
She also participated in the video project It Gets Better, an anti-bullying video that has garnered more than 1 million hits on YouTube. 

Ms. Anderson will be speaking about her work within the animation industry. A Q & A session will immediately follow. 

Please RSVP via email at womeninanimationsf@gmail.com by Friday November 7th and include your First and Last name as it appears on your photo ID.

Remember to bring your Photo ID to show at the Pixar security gate the evening of the event. 

*This event is open to all WIA members in good standing. As this is a members only event we do not have space available for guests at this time. If this changes we will send out a second announcement.* 

Pixar is located at 1200 Park Ave, Emeryville, CA 94608  (510-922-3000). The event will be held at Pixar's Presto Theater. 
Here are directions to Pixar Animation Studios' Presto Theater, where the Darla K Anderson Event will be held:





Brooklyn Building Presto Theater

When you get to campus and park you will walk past the Luxo statue and Steve Jobs building down the walkway to the large building on your left.  This is Brooklyn.  We'll have our greeters right inside the door to help you sign in and direct you further.  

There will be signs up on campus directing for the WIA meeting as well, so you can just watch for those. 
RSVP Today! See you on Tuesday November 11th!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

National Film Board Of Canada Animation Event from ASIFA-SF

Hello Women in Animation SF members! ASIFA-SF has invited us to their National Film Board of Canada Animation Event at the Walt Disney Family Museum this FRIDAY! Read the details below and be sure to RSVP to ASIFA-SF President Karl Cohen. 


THE NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA IN COLLABORATION
 WITH ASIFA-SF AND THE DISNEY FAMILY MUSEUM PRESENT:

AN IN-PERSON EVENING WITH TWO REMARKABLE FILMMAKERS OF THE
NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA

TORILL KOVE
DIRECTOR OF THE ACADEMY AWARD® WINNING SHORT FILM THE DANISH POET

NICOLA LEMAY
DIRECTOR OF NO FISH WHERE TO GO WINNER OF FIPRESCI PRIZE @ ANNECY 2014



FRIDAY, OCT. 3, 7 PM
AT THE WALT DISNEY FAMILY MUSEUM, FREE!


PLEASE RSVP by 6 pm, THURSDAY, OCT. 3  to: karlcohen@earthlink.net
RSVPs will be confirmed.  If the list is full there will be a waiting list. If your RSVP and can’t come, please tell us, so someone on the waiting list can have your seat.
THIS IS OUR INTERNATIONAL ANIMATION DAY EVENT

TORILL KOVE will show her witty semi-autobiographical trilogy for the NFB. My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts (2001) was nominated for an Academy Award® and The Danish Poet (2006) won the Oscar® for Best Animated Short.  Her latest NFB film, Me and My Moulton, recounts memories of growing up in a creative and unconventional family in 1960s Norway.  In addition to screening the three films, Torill will discuss the creative process of writing, storyboarding and animating shorts, using clips, sketches and storyboard panels from her past and current works.

NICOLA LEMAY has been an acclaimed collaborator with the NFB since 1999 as an animator, designer and director. Following his one-minute episode of NFB’s innovative Science Please! TV series, Nicola will show his new film No Fish Where to Go, co-directed with Janice Nadeau and winner of the FIPRESCI Prize at this year’s Annecy International Animation Festival. His presentation will address the challenges of adapting a renowned illustrated literary work into a powerful animated short.

The program will also include three new NFB animations, including Michèle Cournoyer's Soif, a depiction of alcoholism in the bold, metamorphic graphic style of The Hat, her acclaimed study of sexual abuse; Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre’s Jutra, an animated short documentary about Claude Jutra, the celebrated French-Canadian director of live-action features, who committed suicide after becoming afflicted with Alzheimer's disease; and Tali's Bus Story, winner of the Best Short Film award from the Annecy 2014 Junior Jury.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Boxtrolls: A Seven-Year Journey Comes To The Screen

image from imdb.com


A boy named Eggs. A Boxtroll named Fish. And a whimsical town that holds a dark secret. Thus begins LAIKA’s third feature film, The Boxtrolls, arriving in wide release Friday September 27th. It’s a tale that both children and adults will enjoy, capturing the humor, oddness, charm and peril that LAIKA films are known for while also showcasing the latest advancements in the world of stopmotion filmmaking. The venerable cast includes such stalwarts as Ben Kingsley, Dee Bradley Baker, Steve Blum, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Tracy Morgan, Elle Fanning, Fred Tatasciore, Maurice LaMarche and Game of Thrones' Issac Hempstead Wright.

ASIFA-Hollywood, in conjunction with Focus Features and the San Francisco Film Society, held a screening at San Francisco’s Metreon Theater on Tuesday September 23rd to highlight the upcoming release. Watching the smoothness of the animation, the flow of the story and the marvelous detail, viewers may forget the thousands of hours, dozens of story drafts and herculean efforts required to create something so amazing, so lost will they be in the film itself.

Fortunately, CEO, Executive Producer and Lead Animator Travis Knight, Directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, Producer David Ichioka and Editor Edie Ichioka were on hand after the screening to reveal the secrets of the magic that went in to making the film the public will come to love.

Crafting the Story 

“It’s a coming of age story,” said CEO Travis Knight to the film crowd on Tuesday evening.

“At it’s core it’s like all LAIKA films, there’s something deeper at its’ heart.” It all started seven years ago.

Coraline was in production and the LAIKA team had purchased the rights to Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow, slated to be the studio’s second feature film. This proved to be a task of epic proportions, as the book spans 544 pages and includes a cavalcade of wildly imaginative characters like Cabbage people, Rabbit women, and of course, Boxtrolls. Whittling down the ideas created by author Alan Snow proved to be a feat in itself.

Director Anthony Stacchi’s mantra became “throw everything out but the title and see what comes back. After six drafts there were still Cabbage heads and a giant rabbit destroying the city.”

Director Graham Annable, a board artist on Coraline and Paranorman, helped the team craft what would become the beginnings of the tale after boarding a scene between the boy protagonist Eggs (voiced by Issac Hempstead Wright) and his surrogate Boxtroll family Fish (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker) and Shoes (voiced by Steve Blum). “Within three months we got rid of everything before and after [that scene.]”

The scene became the bedrock of the film, and although it did not make it into the finished film, it provided a blueprint for everyone on the team to rally behind.

Stopmotion Animation and Rapid Prototyping – Past Meets Future 

One of LAIKA’s best known traits is its ability to bring lifelike performances using both traditional stop motion techniques while also embracing advanced technology.

“The movie really happens through the conversation with the animators,” said Graham. “We would visit the animators on the set everyday or every two days.” At LAIKA all animation is done on 1s (as opposed to 2s and 4s, which is more common for 2D and CG animation).

 “You get one rehearsal on 2s and 4s. Rehearsals are best described as Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs,” said Stacchi. Ideas are mapped out, then the animators animate by moving the character by hand, recording it, then moving again, a painstaking process resulting in 30 to 45 frames a day.

One of the ways that LAIKA has emerged as a powerhouse player in the industry is by embracing a technique known as rapid prototyping. This process allows an individual to instruct a computer to create a 3D printing of an object, for example, Eggs’ head, and also allows artists to design and texture the object using the computer.

“They’re meant to do one-offs,” said Knight. “We’re using it as a mass production device.” For example, there were hundreds faces created just for the character Eggs alone, and hundreds more created for the other titular characters of The Boxtrolls, enabling the animators to switch out expressions of the characters, creating more variety for them to showcase in the film. Often faces were printed in two halves so that the artists could mix and match, creating a wider variety of facial features.

 After years of developing, modifying and experimenting with this technology, the LAIKA team has found a myriad of ways to bend it to suit the company’s needs.

 “Our painter figured out how to get the printer to get certain kinds of colors it didn’t want to print,” said Knight as an example.

“The company is full of MacGyvers,” added Stacchi. “It’s like something out of Star Trek, it shouldn’t exist,” remarked Knight. “When the machines rise against us this is what they’ll be using…until then we’ll use it to make cartoons.”

Putting It All Together – Editorial and Stereo 3D

Editorial’s job is to take the story reel created by the storyboard artists and essentially put together a film. Once the story reel is approved, they take footage from the animators and begin to craft the movie. It is a painstaking process, and one that is not done until it is done.

“It is a tsunami of material at all times. You’re not just a tube the material passes through. You are required to make it better than when it first came through,” said Editor Edie Ichioka.

“Everyone who touches it plusses it – it is always changing, it’s a dynamic process.”

“Dailies last all day – material comes through editorial all day,” said Producer David Ichioka. And unlike many films created in the past few years, The Boxtrolls was shot in stereo, in order to give it an authentic 3D look.

“We don’t do 3D in post,” remarked Ichioka. “When you shoot it with stereo you see the whole world as it was built,” said Knight.

And Finally…The Dance Sequence 

In the film Eggs and his new friend Winnie (voiced by Elle Fanning) attend a party where dozens of individuals perform a complicated waltz. It’s a spectacular sequence that proved to be an amazing feat to animate.

 “We presumed the most difficult scene would be the robot smashing the whole town, but was the dance sequence,” said Graham. “It took all 18 months of the shooting schedule for 2 minutes of dancing.”

The LAIKA team used two choreographers form the Portland Ballet and brought in dancers, and filmed their entire dance from every conceivable angle in order to study the realistic and beautiful moments of dance. All of the effort and detail, from the artistry to the technology, was in service to the characters within the film.

 “[We] Try to bring more naturalism to the movements. We have to push the performance of the puppets, to show they have emotions, aspirations and hopes and dreams,” said Knight. LAIKA’s continual push to create engaging stories, coupled with their technical logical advancements, is showcased in vivid color in their third feature film.

“The artists at LAIKA can do anything, they’re brilliant,” said Knight.

Special thanks to the LAIKA, Focus Features, San Francisco Film Society and ASIFA for arranging the screening for animation professionals and fans alike. 

The Boxtrolls opens today, September 26th, at a theater near you. 

And for more info on Women in Animation San Francisco visit our Facebook Page at:

https://www.facebook.com/wiasf

and Twitter at:

https://twitter.com/WIASanFrancisco

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Women, Wine and Animation ILM President Lynwyn Brennan Shares her Story at the Walt Disney Family Museum

Animation professionals, students and fans were in high spirits on Thursday August 28th at the Walt Disney Family Museum to hear President of Industrial Light and Magic Lynwen Brennan share her tales of entering the animation and VFX industry. Having served as President for the past 15 years, Ms. Brennan shared her wealth of knowledge with warmth and humor to the crowd of over 100.



Early Beginnings

“I have been extraordinarily lucky,” Ms. Brennan stated. Her Welsh heritage instilled in her the belief that women could do anything. Her grandmother worked as a scullery maid, and was smart and self-assured and taught her daughter the same life lessons. Her Grandmother’s efforts and hard work enabled her mother to attend excellent grammar schools and become the first person, male or female, in her family to attend college. Her mother taught for 40 years and later became a principal of the school. Her mother had ““nothing but the highest degree of effort and kindness and respect for everyone,” said Ms. Brennan. And she taught her that “there is nothing you cannot do.”

The Fall That Changed Her Life

Her mother’s faith and courage in her abilities enable her to overcome one of the most difficult periods in Ms. Brennan’s life. During her early adulthood, while visiting an amusement park with friends Ms. Brennan fell off a rollercoaster. The accident fractured her leg so severely that it resembled jelly on the inside according to doctors.

The doctors informed her mother that her foot would need to be amputated, but the Ms. Brennan’s mother would have none of that. Her mother massaged her foot and leg for hours, then commanded the doctor to bring in a different ultrasound machine when the first did not show a positive result “Because the first was obviously not working,” said Ms. Brennan. Finally a tiny pulse appeared in her foot, and after her first surgery, Ms. Brennan awoke to see her mother grinning ear to ear and her foot securely intact.

“I told you if you want something enough nothing is impossible,” her mother stated.

Turning Point

As her leg healed that year Ms. Brennan was forced to reevaluate her goals. She spent the year in and out of the hospital, eventually receiving six surgeries and physical therapy to regain the ability to walk. She spent the year bored, laying on the sofa, watching movies with her brother to pass the time. That time spent would serve as another turning point. She and her brother began to discuss movies and storytelling, what made films work and not work. Her brother had started a small VFX company, and seeing Ms. Brennan’s interest, appointed her as head of marketing. 


“I was the only one so I was head of myself,” Ms. Brennan said. In order to get excellent bids they had to give the appearance of being a large corporation. They did this by working diligently, seven days a week, and their work paid off when ILM became one of their clients. They worked on such films as Death Becomes Her and Jurassic Park. And they were able to secure the bid by listening to everything ILM wanted and coming through, said Ms. Brennan.



Even though Ms. Brennan greatly enjoyed working for the company and their clients, a part of her wondered when she would return to her original path. She had gone to school for science, not film, and in the back of her mind she still planned to return to that original goal. In 1995 they sold the company to AVID, but not without a little sadness mixed with the pride of selling the company.

“It was hard to see the company you put your heart and soul into go into a large corporation,” said Ms. Brennan.

Later she worked at Autodesk, which she enjoyed, but with no intention of staying. She rented everything, including furniture, believing that she would soon return to her original goal. Her brother’s advice enabled her to realize that her goals had changed, and that VFX and film was a great fit for her.
“It is better to regret doing something than to regret not doing it,” she recalled him saying.

Industrial Light and Magic

It was this advice, coupled with her courage that she could do anything, and that anything was possible, that led her to ILM. She was mentored by many strong and smart women, including Gail Curry, and learned one of the best pieces of advice that she implements daily.

“If there’s a tough choice make the one that’s the best for the artists Gail told her,” said Ms. Brennan. In order to do this, one must know the artists, who they are, what they stand for and what is important in their lives. “Know every artists names, their kids names, their spouses name and where applicable their pets,” said Ms. Brennan.

Inspiration All Around

Unbeknownst to her, she was being groomed to become the next President of ILM. She agreed to do the job on two conditions, that the previous president would stay for six months and that they could reevaluate how she was doing.

At ILM the majority of executive leadership are women, stated Ms. Brennan, and they inspire, challenge, argue and keep the right side of sane. Her boss, Kathleen Kennedy, is one of those inspirations. “The word ‘can’t’ is not in her vocabulary,” said Ms. Brennan.

Life At The Company

Being one of the top-tiered VFX and animation studios in the world is a heavy undertaking that Ms. Brennan enjoys each day.

“There isn’t a typical day,” said Ms. Brennan. ILM, because of its offices around the world, is a 24 hour operation. However there are a few things that do occur each day. She starts the day off with a conference all in London, followed by watching the dailies for every project in production,  bidding on what’s coming in, calling clients,  checking the finances for each show and projecting how many people will be needed for a project.


When asked what the hardest film is that they’ve worked on, Ms. Brennan responded with a laugh, “Whatever we’re doing right now is the hardest. Whatever we’re doing right now is the one that’s not going to get made.”

At the time each project has its own challenges. This past summer, Transformers 4, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Lucy were all coming down the pipeline and were completed within weeks of each other.

“All converged at one time and that was terrifying,” said Ms. Brennan. “But there were all so last month I have other worries now.”

Working Together: Mentoring and Beyond

Mentoring was one of the things that enabled Ms. Brennan to get to where she is today. She found mentors on purpose and some came to her, seeing in her an ability to work diligently to get things done. The two most important things she recommended, when seeking out a mentor, is to have both confidence and integrity.

Trust your gut and never question your integrity, said Ms. Brennan. It was this trusting in her gut that enabled her to change from her original science field after graduating from university to embarking on adventures in film.

“I definitely have an unusual path into it. My gut told me ‘go this path’ even though your plan was this way,” she said.

She also expounded on the idea of likeability, something that women often feel they must conform to in order to be successful in business.

“If by wanting to be liked means showing kindness and respect – there’s no downside to that,” said Ms. Brennan. Empathy doesn’t mean you want to be liked but that you want to treat your employees well, she continued.

“Just because you care about someone doesn’t make you weaker, you do it because it makes you human,” she stated.

And What About That Little Upcoming Film Star Wars?

No conversation with an ILM veteran would be complete without finding out a little about the upcoming Star Wars film.

“It’s set in space,” replied Ms. Brennan to the ecstatic crowd. “There’s a robot called R2D2 in it. And that’s all you’re getting from me.”

WIA SF Co-Presidents Angela Entzminger, Mary Kate Dangoia, ILM President Lynwen Brennan and WIA SF Co-President Angelique Reisch. 

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